VAM might be a vanity metric, but I like it

Cyclists are a strange bunch of people, especially the data cracks. But if there is one thing I love most about cycling, it is exactly that, the data.

A few weeks ago, I installed a power meter on my Canyon cyclocross bike. It took me about an hour and a half to set it up, but it was totally worth it.

The first thing I did was hit the hill/mountain behind our house. The top of the mountain is at about 1050 meters above sea level, whereas we live at 450 mtrs; not the longest climb in the world, but with an average inclination of 9.5% – a challenge.

What is VAM?

My Quarq SRAM power meter connects nicely with my Wahoo Elemnt Bolt. The simple and quick pairing process didn‘t take much longer than a minute – and I was good to go.

After the first 200 meters of climbing, I noticed a new number on my dashboard: VAM. I had absolutely no idea what that might be. The usual numbers I look at are my Watts/Kg and inclination numbers of the current climb, but the VAM war right next to the elevation number.

When I came back home, I had to ask Google to help me out on this one. And it turned out to be quite an interesting statistic, indeed.

The VAM estimates how many meters of elevation you have done or can do in one hour of climbing. VAM – estimating speeds on hilly cycle rides | Cicerone Press

How can I use VAM when cycling?

Now, for those of you who love to bike, go fast and enjoy the decents more than the uphill-battles, the VAM might not be your thing. However, if you are into longer rides, with lots of hills and you would like to know how many meters you can climb in an hour, the VAM is the metric for you.

What I like about the VAM is that it is a practical number. It can plan the next longer trip, better and shows me what my watts have actually gotten me.

I know that I can sustain a certain amount of watts for an hour – but that number is just a number. It helps me pace my efforts better of course, and it helps me in my training routines. Yet, knowing that I have done >1000 VAM in the last hour, on average is fun. It sure beats being able to say that I have raised my Watts/Kg from 320 to 325.

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Why none of it matters

When it comes to cycling, the only thing you should really care about is how the effort made you feel. Neither an average power output nor the VAM will tell you how you felt, entirely.

Numbers can motivate, or hold you back. I surely do not need to look at my power meter every single minute to know how I am doing. I think I know when I am cycling at 50-60- or 80% of my total capacity. And some days are better than others.

And even-though my bike computer is the one thing I would not want to leave the house without, it is probably more of a vanity thing than anything else.

I know that I am not light enough, fast enough and strong enough to measure up to the real roadies, but I like to know I have improved myself or not. Power meter metrics can help me do just that.

But unless you are a professional cyclist, who cares about whether or not your VAM on the last ride was 500, 800, or 1500?

VAM is my new favorite number

Still, the VAM might be my new friend. It is a metric that speaks to me, because it is both practical and logical. Watts are abstract and depend on my weight/height to determine how far they have really taken me. But my vertical ascension meters are easy to comprehend.

The pros can climb a hill at approximately 1800-1900 VAM per hour.

I think my monthly challenge will be to see if I can do half of that for about an hour. I tried it on Monte Bre (Ticino) last Saturday – and after 50 minutes of climbing I had ascended roughly 800 vertical meters – I was very happy with that. And it meant I was not far off of doing what pros can do in half the amount of time it had taken me.

The best part was, I know that I didn‘t go „all out“. The hill was new to me and I had no idea how long the climb was going to be.

But the hill behind our house will be up next, once again. And I cannot wait to see what the VAM numbers are going to say. I will keep you posted on my progress. Until then, stay safe and enjoy the start of your week. Remember, only 5 more days until the weekend is here, once again.



Also published on Medium.

Remco Livain
I’m a digital entrepreneur, online performance marketeer, founder and CEO of the digital innovation consultancy GANDT Ventures (based in Switzerland). We support organizations (SMBs, corporates and later stage ventures) in their digital efforts. I learned the trades of the (online) business at Venture Stars (MIFLORA), Rocket Internet (Westwing Home and Living) and Insparx (C-Date and be2).

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